FAA extends environmental review of SpaceX program in Texas

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SpaceX SN15 starship prototype is seen as it sits on a transporter in Boca Chica, Texas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON -The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday it was extending its target date to complete an environmental review of the proposed SpaceX Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket program in Boca Chica, Texas, to March 28.

The FAA’s previous target date was Feb. 28. The FAA noted that completing the environmental review does not guarantee that a vehicle operator license will be issued, which must also meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements.

More than 19,000 public comments were received on the draft environmental review by FAA, which said it “is continuing consultation and coordination with other agencies.”

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Thursday he was “highly confident” his new SpaceX Starship, designed for voyages to the moon and Mars, will reach Earth orbit for the first time this year.

The FAA is deciding whether the planned build-out in Texas poses a significant environmental impact to the area – including an adjacent wildlife reserve – and must therefore undergo a far more extensive study before expanded operations at SpaceX’s rocket production facility and spaceport in Boca Chica can be licensed.

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Asked Thursday what he knew about the status of the FAA review, Musk said, “We don’t have a ton of insight into where things stand with the FAA. We have gotten sort of a rough indication there may be an approval in March. But that’s all we know.”

Even in a “worst-case” scenario, in which a full environmental impact statement were required or legal wrangling over the issue threatened to drag on, Musk said SpaceX has a fall-back plan.

The company would shift its entire Starship program to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX already has received the environmental approval it needs, Musk said.

Such a move would cause a setback of six to eight months, he added.

In any case, SpaceX is still shooting for a 2023 launch of what it calls the world’s first private lunar mission, flying aboard a Starship to loop around the moon and return to Earth.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)